Silverchair: Diorama (Atlantic)

Lyrically, Johns reaches far into the bizarre realm, singing about very out-of-the-ordinary subject matter such as fungus in milk, polystyrene hats, labyrinths of sympathy, and frozen eyes that are bound to melt.

Here’s an idea for something fun to do when you’re in the mood to stump your musically knowledgeable friends: play them a few songs from Silverchair’s brilliant latest release, Diorama, and have them try to guess the band. The odds are strongly in your favor that they won’t be able to, unless a few heavily informative hints are given first. You can tell them that it’s a band that had a few big alt-rock hits in the mid- and late ’90s and that they were, at that time, referred to by many critics as Australia’s version of Pearl Jam. If those clues don’t work, you can help them out even further by telling them to pay close attention to the lead singer’s distinctive voice, which is just about the only thing that hasn’t significantly changed in the three years that have passed since their last CD.

It sounds as if 23-year-old Daniel Johns, the trio’s multitalented vocalist, guitarist, pianist, and sole songwriter, has spent much of those three years listening to, among other things, his parents’ copy of the Beach Boys’ legendary Pet Sounds release. He apparently liked the highly experimental style of that record enough to hire Van Dyke Parks, who often worked with the Beach Boys, to arrange the lush orchestral portions of three of Diorama’s tracks. The other 3 of the disc’s 11 tracks utilizing the Sydney
Orchestra were coproduced by Johns himself, a rather ambitious effort from someone his age.

Two of the disc’s stronger tracks, “The Greatest View” and the oddly titled “Tuna in the Brine,” are densely layered, hauntingly melodic pieces of music that truly exemplify Johns’ versatile songwriting abilities. Diorama does offer up a few songs that contain the more traditional and expected sound of Silverchair’s earlier days, such as “One Way Mule” and “The Lever,” but even those tracks hint at the fact that this is a band that has significantly evolved and matured over the years.

Lyrically, Johns reaches far into the bizarre realm, singing about very out-of-the-ordinary subject matter such as fungus in milk, polystyrene hats, labyrinths of sympathy, and frozen eyes that are bound to melt. As with many bands’ finer works, however, the strength of Diorama’s music more than makes up for the lyrics, which often make little or no sense.

Silverchair is, and always has been, extremely popular in their homeland of Australia, selling out every one of their dozen upcoming spring dates months in advance. An Australian radio station poll voted Diorama album of the year, with sales in that country recently reaching triple-platinum status. So why has this remarkable disc been, for the most part, practically ignored by American radio and media? Your guess is as good as mine.

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